Killing of Baltazar: police officer convicted

19. March 2024 | "War on Drugs", Human Rights News

On February 27, 2024, a Philippine court sentenced police officer Gerry Maliban to four years in prison for the murder of 17-year-old Jerhode “Jemboy” Baltazar during a police operation on August 2, 2023, in Navotas in Metro Manila. Instead of receiving a sentence of up to 40 years in prison for murder, the court sentenced Maliban only to four years in prison for homicide with a fine of 50,000 pesos (approx. 888 US dollars).

The other five police officers involved in the murder also received reduced sentences and were released after the court judgement. Antonio Bugayong Jr. was acquitted in the murder case, while Niko Pines Esquilon, Roberto Balais Jr, Edmard Jake Blanco, and Benedict Mangada were sentenced to four months in prison for the illegal use of their firearms. They had been imprisoned since October 2023 and could be released from prison as the court allowed their preventive suspension to be taken into account.

During the police operation on August 2, 2023, Maliban and the five named police officers have mistaken Baltazar as a wanted murder suspect. The police officers stated that Baltazar, who was on a boat with a friend, allegedly tried to escape and jumped into the river. This had prompted the police officers to use their firearms. The court now ruled that it was not murder because the necessary elements such as treachery and evident premeditation could not be proven. An autopsy could have supported the claim of murder because the gunshot wounds to Baltazar’s head and right hand indicated self-defense. In addition, the autopsy indicated that Baltazar would have survived if he had been taken out of the water immediately after the shooting. The testimony of Sonny Boy Agustillo, Baltazar’s companion, also identified Gerry Maliban as the person who fired the gun at Jemboy Baltazar. The crime scene investigation also revealed that the shots were fired at Jemboy while he was still on the boat.

Senator Risa Hontiveros had driven forward the Senate’s investigation into the police operation. Hontiveros criticized that although the court ruling should be respected, it reflects the worsening impunity in the country, which has allowed abusive law enforcement agencies to get away with their crimes. Human rights activist and former senator Leila de Lima also expressed her dissatisfaction with the lenient sentences handed down to the police in Baltazar’s case: “The crime was committed still within the context of Duterte’s drug war where police were given the licence to shoot to kill mere suspects, and even killed innocent ones, like Jemboy.” De Lima declared on the seventh anniversary of her arrest that her fight for justice and accountability for the killings in the so-called “war on drugs” continues and will not end with her release.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Benjamin Acorda Jr. claimed in a press conference on February 12, 2024, that there were operations to combat illegal drugs that also led to the killing of targeted persons. However, Acorda insisted that the deaths of some people were not intentional. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also denied in an interview on Australian television on March 6, 2024, that his government did not kill drug users but placed them in treatment facilities. Marcos Jr. also emphasized the progress his government had made in the fight against illegal drugs.


Photo © Raffy Lerma

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